Apocalyptic stories usually keep us battling zombies, deadly viruses and environmental disasters, but Wayne Gladstone’s Notes from the Internet Apocalypse (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, $23.99) deprives readers of those distracting action scenes. Instead, the only thing that’s crashed here is the Internet. Gladstone plays out all the funny and terrifying ways the demise of the Web would change our lives. Addicted to those cat memes? So are the people who now go around catching cats and making them perform. Millions who have communicated in the safety of anonymity are now forced into the streets, bringing their Reddit and 4chan bazaars with them. Even Jeeves, the defunct valet for Ask.com, comes to life in the form of an ex-librarian turned psychic who hangs out in Central Park answering questions for five bucks. With his sharp wit and Googlesque knowledge of the Web, Gladstone lays bare the ways viral communication has become the infrastructure of our economic and cultural identity. The conversations are vulgar at times, but then they throw us unexpectedly into the sublime. At its core, “Notes from the Internet Apocalypse” is a love story, which is why, even as our narrator spends a week in the Rule 34 club and finally makes a request, it will break your heart.
Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent (Tor, $25.99) brings dragons into the Victorian world, and flawlessly so. As a natural historian, Mrs. Camherst, also known as Lady Trent, desires to know more about the properties of dragon bone in an effort to preserve the species from being hunted. This warrants a trip to observe the dragon’s distant cousin, the legendary swamp-wyrms that live in the Moulish jungle known as the Green Hell. To get there, Mrs. Camherst and her crew navigate the political and cultural expectations of warring countries they must pass through en route, all the while battling malaria, yellow fever and unwanted suitors. They even participate in native rituals to battle witchcraft, which allows the expedition team to finally acknowledge long-hidden desires and fears. But the crew’s journey through the Green Hell is nothing compared to the island that Mrs. Camherst must visit alone in order to “touch the dragons” and make her most exciting discovery yet. “The Tropic of Serpents” is the sequel to “A Natural History of Dragons” (2013) and gives fantasy readers another good reason to enter Brennan’s fantastical world.
In Sarah Tolmie’s The Stone Boatmen (Aqueduct; paperback, $20), two kingdoms separated by ocean have been left with giant statues by a common ancestor of whom they have no record. The first kingdom is united by rituals that have lost their meaning for many of the inhabitants. But then Prince Nerel, who uncannily resembles the statues, meets Azul, his own double. Their friendship — bound by their physical likeness to each other and the 15 giant boatmen that sit in their bay — inspires the country to discover kin across the sea. Azul’s son voyages to a kingdom governed by a deeply spiritual belief in the power of words and poetry. What follows is a series of interpolated tales that weave more mystery around the common ancestor of all these people. In Tolmie’s novel, writing becomes a holy act, temple birds carry an ancient grief, and statues that never move are eerily alive. You will want to find such places once you’ve finished reading this remarkable novel.
Hightower is the author of “Elementari Rising.”